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Brexit: Economic Effects

Volume 794: debated on Wednesday 21 November 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what recent discussions they have had with the Chambers of Commerce and Confederation of British Industry representatives in the United Kingdom’s regions and nations about the economic effects of Brexit.

My Lords, the Government continue to engage with business groups, including the CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce, on the economic effects of EU exit across the UK’s regions. We remain committed to ensuring that the views of business are reflected in our approach to Brexit, and businesses have responded positively to the draft of the withdrawal agreement published last week.

My Lords, the Government announced in the other place on Monday that they would publish an economic and fiscal analysis of the effects of Brexit. In this House the Minister and his ministerial colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, have also said that there will be updated impact assessments of the effects of Brexit on our regions and nations. In view of the Prime Minister’s proposed deal, and also of the continuing concerns of business, can the Minister give us some outline of the timetable for publishing this additional information?

Yes, I can. The position will be contingent on the outcome of the Council, but if there is agreement there on the proposal put forward in the withdrawal agreement, and also on the crucial element of political declaration on the future partnership, we would expect to produce that analysis and put it in the public domain next week.

My Lords, yesterday the FT City Network—a forum of more than 50 senior city figures—spoke out in favour of a people’s vote. Another wave of City members wrote to the FT today with exactly the same message. The IoD, to its own surprise, found that a survey of its members produced a majority in favour of a people’s vote. Will the Government finally consider a people’s vote? For business, while no deal would be a catastrophe, the proposed May deal is so second-rate that it diminishes them.

Talking to the British Chambers of Commerce, CBI and all the business organisations, I find that the one thing they all want is for a deal to be done. They want certainty. They want to understand where they are so that they can continue to trade and move forward. That is what the Prime Minister has put before us, that is what the Cabinet has agreed, and that is what we hope will be agreed at the European Council next week. That is the best way forward for Britain, and it is the best way forward for business.

My Lords, if we want clarity and certainty, all that a so-called people’s vote can do is prolong the agony, deepen the division and make it far more difficult to come to a sensible conclusion.

My Lords, the Minister’s Answer to my noble friend Lady Quin was somewhat elliptical and roseate in hue. When we come to the question of the Commons having to consider the issue of the meaningful vote, is it not the case that the Minister in the Commons confessed on Monday that the economic analysis would of course depend on aspects of withdrawal, but with Britain still a full member of the European Community? How on earth can that prove to be realistic in people’s judgment on the withdrawal position?

That was the decision that Members of the other place came to in the debate on Monday. They introduced Amendment 14 to the Finance Bill, which called on the Government to consider the long-term costs and benefits of moving to a new trading relationship with the EU and the rest of the world. The Exchequer Secretary said:

“I am happy to confirm that the baseline for this comparison will be the status quo—that is, today’s institutional arrangements with the EU”.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/11/18; col. 661.]

So we are doing what we have been asked to do by the other place.

My Lords, in a statement last week, the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights said that Ministers were treating,

“the impact of Brexit on … poverty”,

as “an afterthought”. What assessment are the Government making of the likely impact of Brexit on the very high poverty levels in this country?

Many people looked at the special rapporteur’s response, but also at the fact that the number of people in poverty has been steadily falling, that the number of children in poverty has been steadily falling, that employment is at record levels, that growth is on the up, that inflation is on the down, that our exports are rising and that growth and opportunity are there for jobs and education—which are the best routes out of poverty.

My Lords, can I just clarify something? Is it not the case that people such as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and the CBI, are only now cosying up to the deal proposed because they are absolutely scared—I was about to say “something” scared, but I had better not—of the alternative of no deal? The reality is that, all around the country, a momentum—if noble Lords will excuse the word—is growing in favour of a people’s vote. In a democracy, three years after a previous referendum, and now that we know what the conditions are and what the whole process involves, what is wrong with giving the people another say?

In a democracy we had a people’s vote, which was the referendum—and the Government were re-elected on another people’s vote.

Both the noble Lord’s party and mine stood on a platform of honouring the people’s vote that took place in 2016. We are now on the brink of an agreement which can remove the uncertainty so that this country can move forward, and that is why we are supporting it.

Would my noble friend reconsider that answer? After all, we had an election, and then two and half years later we decided that there was a chance for the people to have another vote on that. So merely to say that we have had a vote is not to say that we should never have a vote again. Is not the problem that the deal that has been done puts Britain into a significantly worse position than we are in as a member of the European Union?

No, I do not accept that premise. If that were the case, we would not still be the number one location in Europe for foreign direct investments, or judged by Forbes to be the number one place to do business in 2018, which we are, and our exports would not be rising. The reality is that people want to remove the uncertainty, and to do that, we need to get behind this deal and get it done.

My Lords, if Parliament cannot find a solution to this problem in relation to the European Union, is it necessary to have the delay and likely disagreement of another vote? The last vote was of course a people’s vote, and to describe the next one as a people’s vote does not seem to be a particularly advantageous description. However, if Parliament cannot solve this problem, surely the next thing to do is to propose a Motion that we stay in the European Union?

I was with my noble and learned friend all the way until just before the end. There will be a meaningful vote, which we promised and which will happen some time in December, and then this place and the other place can make their views known on the proposed agreement. I very much hope that they will come in behind it and behind the Prime Minister so that we can move on and see it implemented.